In the continual swirl of work and life, it’s hard to gauge all that’s possible in a single year. A few places and experiences stood out for me in 2014, but I didn’t appreciate just how much I did until it was time to sit down and retrace my steps by going over a year’s worth of photos. Here’s a little taste of 44 places where I spent time in ’14.
Back in Thailand for the next six months, I spent a few days in the Mekong riverside town of Nong Khai. One of the highlights was the quirky yet awe-inspiring Sala Kaew Ku.
While on a motorbike trip west from Nong Khai, I fell for this sleepy riverside town.
Back home in the Thai capital, January’s “Bangkok Shutdown” began five months of continual street protests followed by a military coup in May. I covered the situation, from start to finish, in a number of posts for Travelfish. The new government’s actions have been questionable in more ways than one, but as a resident of the city, I was very relieved to get the streets and parks back from demonstrations that were more annoying than scary.
Southeast Thailand’s “Elephant Island” was one of the larger destinations that I covered in 2014, finishing work that I’d begun in December on a second trip in February. While most of the action is on the west coast, the quieter east coast and its fishing villages left me charmed.
A boat ride away from Ko Chang, Ko Wai was the first of several little-known yet beautiful islands that I would discover for the first time in ’14.
I also had a great time exploring Ko Mak, one of those rare islands that’s extremely beautiful but not so popular. It just soothes you to the bone.
Back on the mainland, I found intriguing architecture and history in Thailand’s most southeasterly province, which was part of the French empire for a time in the late 19th century. Also, lots of pig’s heads.
We stopped in this underrated beach town on a trip to the “narrowest part of Thailand,” just over some hills from Cambodia. After buying a bundle of fresh crabs to take home and cook, we felt bad and decided to let them go.
Ko Si Boya
It was back to the islands in March, this time to the Andaman side and the ultra-laid-back island of Si Boya.
Next door to Si Boya, I found the island of Ko Jum (aka Ko Pu) to be an ideal mix of great beaches, quiet fishing villages, friendly locals and bungalows that made me want to stay for an extra week or three.
This large and spectacular Andaman Sea island took me almost two weeks to cover. The update also took longer to write than any I’ve done to date; I see it as the centerpiece of my ’14 Travelfish coverage. Instead of featuring one of a dozen beaches, I’ve chosen a view from atop the cliffs in Ta Noad Cape at the far southern tip of the island.
We stopped at more fruit orchards here, including some coconut and papaya groves, and a floating vineyard that we spontaneously toured by boat.
For the fourth time in five years, I returned to a chedi that’s one of the largest, oldest and most historically significant in Thailand.
Chin and I also spent a couple of weekends near Khao Yai, an area that’s become our go-to destination when we desperately need to see trees and hear the sound of crickets.
My next work trip, in June, was to this beach-side resort city that’s not my favorite place in the world. It does have an atmospheric train station though.
Sam Roi Yot
I continued down the Gulf of Thailand coast to the cluster of limestone mountains known as “Three Hundred Peaks.” The caves and coastline were stunning, but the most memorable views came from the far north and western sides of the park.
On June 28, Chin joined me and we traveled into the remote western mountains that form the Burma border and give rise to Thailand’s largest national park. The day was spent chasing butterflies and climbing the many tiers of Pala U Waterfall. That night, just after checking into a strange log cabin that we stumbled upon in the middle of nowhere, I received word that my Father had died suddenly back in Massachusetts. We later reflected on how, at around the exact same moment that he passed, we watched a wild bull elephant emerge from the jungle.
Within 48 hours I was back in New England, helping to prepare for a funeral and memorial service, spending time with family, and driving down dirt roads to cope with the sadness.
After the memorial service, my Aunt and I found time to drive out to this quaint (and ritzy) town in northeastern Mass., where we ate lobster rolls and took pictures of boats before visiting my brother and his family in Newburyport.
A close friend and I also took the long way up to my former home state of Vermont, stopping along Route 101 to glimpse the, um, Route 101 Waterfall. I photographed at least 20 waterfalls in Thailand during ’14; funny that the one to show up here should be from the good old Green Mountain State.
Returning to Thailand in August, we took a brief trip up to the town of Nan, which was a special treat as we don’t often make it up north. The ornate temples (including a hell display in one) were nice, but the highlight was encountering fighting rhinoceros beetles in the night market.
Thailand’s northern region blends into the northeast in this rural province. Phu Kradueng National Park was closed, but we did visit “Loei’s Kunming” and enjoyed snail salad and many other upcountry specialties in the provincial capital’s night market.
Once an offbeat spot, this little town now attracts droves of domestic tourists; you can see why in this shot of the Mekong scenery at sunset. That’s Laos on the other side, by the way.
After stopping for some views at Phu Ruea National Park, said to be the coldest place in Thailand, we spent a day in this small town that’s famous for its Phi Ta Khon (“Ghost Mask”) tradition. I was intrigued by the distinctive blend of Theravada Buddhism and animism / spirit worship that are so prevalent here. Even the Buddha image at Wat Phon Chai looked a little sinister.
September in Thailand is rainy. While covering the gritty north-central Thai city of P’lok, I was drenched with muddy water from the waste down when a passing pick-up took little pity on the wandering foreigner. Maybe that’s why I’m opting to include this shot of a very typical urban Thai house instead of one of the gorgeous temples or waterfalls found here.
After spending the worst of the rainy season in Bangkok, I set off in November on a whirlwind trip through Thailand’s far southwestern islands. It began in Trang, one of my favorite provincial capitals in the Kingdom, mainly thanks to the terrific food and coffee.
Next was Ngai, a beautiful but uninspiring island with a name that’s not easy to pronounce. This photo was actually shot near Ko Maa, a tiny karst islet just off the coast of Ngai where a school of tigerfish gathered round to catch a glimpse of the humans.
It was stormy for most of my time on Kradan, which gave me an excuse to sit around soaking up Wally’s sailor wisdom at Paradise Lost. The clouds cleared on the morning I left, allowing this shot of just how gorgeous the Trang islands can be.
I also joined a couple of Americans, a Finn and a German on a snorkeling trip to these unspoilt twin islands located further out in the Andaman. Again it was overcast for most of the trip, but the snorkeling sites were still among the best I’ve experienced.
Once my favorite all-round Thai island, I was sad to see that Lipe had become too popular for its own good, resulting in over-development among a number of other issues. Still, there’s no denying that it’s still tremendously beautiful in places.
This enormous and mountainous island that looms just north of Malaysian water was my final island of ’14. Rather than show another idyllic beach scene, I’ve chosen this shot of a drooping building that housed convicted criminals when Talo Wao Cape was a work-camp prison in the early 20th century. When supplies stopped reaching them during World War II, I learned, many of the prisoners and guards became dreaded pirates.
In retrospect, 2014 was an eventful year that took me to several far corners of Thailand and many places in between, plus a hint of Laos and a trip home to New England that sadly came sooner than planned. I dedicate all of these memories to Dad, who was always the first to encourage my adventures abroad. I miss him dearly. 2015 promises many more trips and the enriching experiences that go with them. I’ll part with one last shot from Bangkok to tuk tuk you into the New Year. I wish you good health and the chance to expand your horizons.